January 7, 2009

Staff Picks: Two "How" career/life books that deserve a shout out

By: 800-CEO-READ @ 2:00 PM – Filed under: Personal Development & Human Behavior, The Company

There are two career/life-related books on my desk this morning: How to Be Useful: A Beginner's Guide to Not Hating Work by Megan Hustad and The How of Happiness: A New Approach to Getting the Life You Want (now out in paperback) by Sonja Lyubomirsky. How to Be Useful is an antidote to the cynicism and naivete that Hustad believes have seeped into the veins of younger generations of workers, who have developed an attitude of fundamental resistance to all things "corporate" and "ambitious." She explains that the book "aims to be a corrective to this strange, counterproductive loop of naivete and cynicism. It's a crash course in successful literature designed to help the tenderhearted and creative people I like so much to avoid these existential potholes." Hustad introdues some of the most successful pieces of business success literature--from Emily Post's 1922 best-seller Etiquette: In Society, In Business, In Politics, and at Home, to Stephen Covey's The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, to Napoleon Hill's classic works--and "turned them upside down and shaken out every last bit of wisdom that might be useful to those low on the office totem pole today." She explains that "this is a short tour of a section of literary history--and what genre of letters is more screamingly American than this one?--but it's also a critical guide to one's first few years of salaried labor. (How to Be Useful was a Jack Covert Selects in August 2008 and is featured in our forthcoming annual review of the most notable books in business, In the Books.) The How of Happiness at first looks like another installment in the recent influx of happiness books, but it offers more than stellar scientific research and psychological analysis. Sonja Lyubomirsky focuses on the "how":
"Merriam-Webster's Collegiate Dictionary (11th ed.) lists the first, second, and third definitions of the adverb how as follows: '1a: in what matter or way b: for what reason: why c: with what meaning: to what effect.' [...] Above all, this is a book about how to become a happier person, supplying you a road map--a dozen happiness-increasing strategies--for the matter or way to get there and for how to choose the strategies that fit you best" (5).
One of the reasons I am drawn to this particular happiness book is that I opened it to a random chapter and found one of Lyubomirsky's "Happiness Activities"--Activity No. 8: Increasing Flow Experiences. She introduces and explains Mihaly Csikzentmihalyi's concept of "flow," made famous in his seminal work Flow: The Psychology of Optimal Experience (one of the 100 Best Business Books of All Time, by the way!). Lyubomirsky's attention to Flow is part of a chapter called Living in the Present, in which she "describe[s] two strategies that promote living in the present, flowing and savoring. Both are states of mind associated with positive emotions and well-being." She claims that "putting them into practice is one way that you can overcome your genes and life circumstances and take a step toward transforming yourself into a happier person..." With chapters on "Investing in Social Connections," "Committing to Your Goals," and "Taking Care of Your Body and Your Soul" (and more), The How of Happiness is truly one of the more action-oriented books I've seen on the subject of attaining happiness.